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Why Is It So Hard For Athletes To Feel Successful?

You know the feeling that even though you know you’re going to succeed, you still put a crazy amount of pressure on yourself? 

Well, it all started years ago.  Let’s face it - regardless of what division you played, you were a big deal as a student-athlete.   So let’s examine the journey of getting to that point…

For most of us, it started as early as the peewee days.  That’s right.  While most of our teammates (those who didn’t go on to compete in college) were picking their noses, we were the ones scoring the goals or winning the medals.  This is when the pressure first began, along with the expectation that we had to be successful. 

Let’s fast forward to high school.  We had dreams of making it to college - we were focused, liked the attention and really loved being an athlete.  Then BAM - we became college athletes and our love of our sport became a job.  It was a job where “good” was never “good enough.”  You were always trying to improve and get better.  It was a job that if you acted like you were satisfied, you were fired or someone else came along and took your spot.  It was a job where your coaches were feeding their families based on you, a college student, and how well you performed. 

This is when it all changed.

I’m going to take it back to 1998. I was the starting center at the University of Hawaii and our first game of the season was on ESPN versus Arizona.  I personally had an awesome night and was named the offensive MVP for that game.  Now, let’s fast forward to the film room on Sunday.   I went in thinking I was going to get praised, when in reality I got my ass chewed. 

Crazy, right? 

I was named offensive player of the game, but it wasn’t good enough.  We’ve all been there – my coach had to coach me up.  If I would have enjoyed the success, my coaches and teammates would have felt I wasn’t dialed in.  It was all about taking one game at a time where no individual is above the team and so on.  Well, let me tell you fellow athletes… this mentality is right in sport, but not in life

For years I was in the “college athlete depression mode.”  I had landed a great career out of college with a pharmaceutical company and was making more money than any of my friends.  I got married to my smart, beautiful wife, went through the whole “wine snob” phase, bought a house and so on. 

But why did I not feel successful? 

I enjoyed it, but not as much as I should have.  As athletes, we are trained to constantly try to get better.  We watch film and nit-pick every mistake, looking for areas to constantly improve.  If we enjoy our success or take our feet off the pedal, that’s when we would lose as an athlete.  I value most of the traits athletics has taught me, but this trait of “good is never enough” needs to be checked and controlled.  This part of our athlete DNA will lead to a tremendous amount of pointless anxiety, worry and stress.

This is the reality. So I’ve come up with 4 things we all need to implement in our lives, no matter what stage we are in. 


You've Already Been in the Top 4%

We were great athletes; do not expect that same level of success professionally. Get this - only 4% of college graduates were student athletes.  The chance that you will be in that top 4% again in life is slim.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in the business of squashing dreams, but I want you to understand reality.  For example, to be in the top 4% of income in America you need to make over $250,000 a year!


Enjoy Success, You're Not Settling

Every moment in life doesn’t have to be a teaching moment.  It’s more than okay to enjoy that raise or promotion.  By enjoying it, it doesn’t mean you are settling or losing the will to be better.


It's Your Life

Stop comparing yourself to your friends, family and neighbors. We were trained to study film and watch our opponents.  Don’t do this in life!  Most people are full of it and are creating a false sense of reality and expectations.   The majority of posts on Facebook come from people trying to make themselves feel good in a good moment when that post or picture isn’t their daily reality.


Embrace Your Athlete DNA but Control It

Our Athlete DNA is extremely valuable.  Everything it took to be a student-athlete, if channeled and controlled, will make you very successful in life. There is no longer someone filming every step you take.  It’s okay to enjoy the moment and be satisfied!

It’s funny.  Even I have a hard time following my own advice.  I have to constantly remind myself to relax and take some of the pressure off.  Think how fast the 4-5 years of being a college athlete went.  We don’t want life to go by that quickly.  Embrace your athlete DNA, stay competitive, work hard and have the desire to win.  BUT remember, there is no longer a coach there telling you that good is not good enough.  It is okay to be happy in that moment if you have given it your best!

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